A History

John Keay

Introduced by the author

Covering 3,000 years, John Keay’s China: A History chronicles one of the world’s great civilisations, from Confucius to Mao, in an exclusively updated Folio Society edition with lavish colour illustrations and a new introduction by the author.

Add To Wish List
‘There is no understanding China, present or future, without a sense of its past ... Anybody fascinated by the puzzle of what comes next will find unexpected answers in this crisp, often witty chronicle of amazements.’
  1. Observer

Spanning 3,000 years, from Confucius to Mao and beyond, John Keay’s China: A History is an astonishing feat of historical writing. While most accounts concentrate on recent history, Keay believes the ancient past holds the key to interpreting the world’s largest and least understood nation. Authoritative and immensely readable, his narrative sweeps from China’s mythical origins, through the rise and fall of great empires and forgotten dynasties to the political turmoil and economic miracle of the 20th century. Published in two volumes, the book is sumptuously illustrated with more than 80 colour images, including ancient mummies from Tarim, the Terracotta warriors, bronze and porcelain artefacts, imperial portraits, painted silk landscapes and documentary photographs. Keay has revised and updated his text for the Folio Society, adding a new introduction that encompasses China’s response to the Covid pandemic. Beautifully bound, with striking motifs of serpentine Chinese dragons on the covers and slipcase, this is a fine edition of a book that will engage the general reader and seasoned Sinophile alike.

Bound in three-quarter blocked cloth with a cloth front board printed and blocked with a design by Florian Schommer

Set in Warnock Pro with Quadraat Pro as display

688 pages in total

Volume one: 44 pages of colour plates

Volume two: 48 pages of colour plates

27 integrated maps and various tables across both volumes

Printed endpapers with a design by Florian Schommer

Blocked slipcase with a design by Florian Schommer

10˝ x 6¾˝

The Folio Society worked closely with John Keay to choose pictures that would do justice to China’s long and rich cultural history. The result is a spectacular set of 80 images, each reproduced on its own page or across a spread. There are artefacts from the greatest eras of Chinese artistry – Tang silk portraits and Ming ceramics – as well as fine calligraphy, gilded Buddha statues and both Chinese and European paintings. Superb photography captures more recent history, with portraits of emperors, empresses, generals and demagogues, early landscapes of the Great Wall, and snapshots from the Boxer Rebellion, Long March and Communist Revolution. The 92 pages of colour plates are incorporated throughout the text, and 27 maps and diagrams help the reader make sense of marches and military campaigns, imperial boundaries and dynastic timelines. The striking designs for the covers, slipcase and endpapers are newly commissioned from Florian Schommer, a multi-award-winning illustrator with a unique style.

‘He who does not forget the past is master of the present.’ So said Sima Qian, Grand Historian to the imperial Han court more than 2,000 years ago, and it is a maxim John Keay quotes approvingly in his new introduction. China has always defined itself in terms of its history, with each generation harnessing and rewriting the past: medieval emperors would shore up their legitimacy by invoking Confucius, a figure later reviled by the communists, only to be rehabilitated once again. Keay shows how a culture of great literature, art and philosophy was forged out of near-constant war and upheaval, in a story of rival kingdoms, ruthless warlords and scheming empresses, Mongol invaders and foreign incursions. Concluding with the 20th-century turmoil that created the present-day global superpower, China is an indispensable guide to a much-misunderstood civilisation.

John Keay is the author of numerous classic histories and travel books, largely concerning Asia or Scotland. They include The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (1991), Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland (1994), India: A History (2000; Folio edition 2022), Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East (2003; Folio edition 2016), China: A History (2008; Folio edition 2021) and Midnight’s Descendants: South Asia from Partition to the Present Day (2014). In 2009, the Royal Society for Asian Affairs awarded him the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal for his literary contribution to Asian studies.


You May Also Like

  1. India


    John Keay


    Spanning 5,000 years from the Bronze Age to the present, India: A History is John Keay’s masterful story of the subcontinent; revised and updated for the Folio Society in this fully illustrated edition.

  2. The Art of War

    Written more than 2,500 years ago, The Art of War remains the most famous military treatise of all time. Sun-tzu’s collection of precepts on strategic warfare has yet to be surpassed.

  3. Byzantium


    Judith Herrin


    Byzantium is Judith Herrin’s masterful and often surprising history of a 1,000-year empire, in a Folio Society edition sumptuously illustrated with imperial treasures, plus a new introduction by the author.

  4. The Silk Roads

    The Silk Roads is Peter Frankopan’s revolutionary world history told from the perspective of the East: a beautiful, illustrated Folio edition of an international bestseller.